Creative Optimism: An Ethical Responsibility for Facing Undeniable Problems


Inter-media artist Marcos Novak has shown that in architecture there are no absolute common-sense beliefs based on physicality, and that architecture should exist in the form of the immovable within the visual realms. Marcos Novak’s visions of architecture are liquid and algorithmic where conduction and transmission of architecture is possible. As such, he has presented numerous innovative concepts, encompassing the fields of architecture, art, music, and engineering. In his works, virtual space is transformed into physical space, and space found in reality acquires the liquidity of virtual space. Architecture is not an entity that takes certain physical forms, but rather more of a kind of phenomenon in which materials and non-materials interact. Martin Heidegger has defined Idea as something “not merely confined to the visible, meaningless aspects, but as something constituting the essence in everything that can be heard, tasted, and touched, namely, accessible in any possible way." Can we then say that architecture could exist as a continuum of concepts and as physicality of arts that can preserve Ideas?   



You are planning to present your exhibition "Turbulent Topologies" at Gallery SPACE in 2010. Please tell us about the concept of "Turbulent Topologies" and the upcoming exhibition.


"Turbulent Topologies" investigates the concept of "turbulence" as both a major condition of the global metropolis and as a formal principle governing the construction of both our external architecture and our inner psychologies. The exhibition will explore mixed layers and cross-currents, hidden links and sudden connections, flow networks and agitated stratifications. Through this exhibition, I propose a continuum between actual, virtual, and transactive space, both in form, and in inhabitation. In order to realize this concept, the exhibition uses both visual and non-visual means and adopts both high and low technologies.


The theme "Turbulent Topologies" explores the surprising and often invisible connections that link our lives, buildings, and cities. As we “read” the city, architecture, media, or the experiences of our lives, initially simple, hierarchically clear, connections promptly multiply into complex interconnections across levels, twists and tangles, shortcuts, and short circuits. Such situations not only result in topological connections of high genus, but also form complex mathematical “knots.” Under a seemingly simple overall form we find a complex network of pathways that give life and character to our cities, our buildings, and ourselves. Rather than accepting the superficial – literally, the surface of things -- it is more meaningful to traverse and to trace the specificities by which things are connected, even if – or perhaps especially if – they are at first invisible to our eyes. Creative optimism, as I have explained elsewhere, is a kind of ethical responsibility in the face of intractable problems. It requires both clarity of vision and the willingness to creatively form reality. “Turbulent Topologies” is about beginning to see that what we initially perceive as emptiness is rarely empty – space is crossed by all sorts of fields and connections, invisible, but with definite form and purpose – and that to act effectively, we must first learn to see what at first we do not perceive, so that we may eventually form it.


Indeed, "Turbulent Topologies" (which was so far exhibited in Istanbul, Turkey, Venice, Italy, and Valencia from 2008), consists of a seemingly empty cube containing a large invisible transactive sculpture (made using a motion-tracking system and the mathematical simulation of the flow of numerous dynamic fields), and objects derived by interacting with it. This large installation is designed to permit the “reading” of invisible shapes through the interaction with several fields of intensities, including sounds, colors, shapes, and behaviors. "Turbulent Topologies" demonstrates that "invisible shapes" are not necessarily subjective and indefinite, but can instead be very objectively present. Though present, however, these shapes can be easily missed without the attention, imagination, effort, and imagination of the viewer. 


Architecturally, this exhibition explores the idea that we live in a new kind of space that encompasses the actual, the invisible, and the virtual, with the invisible acting as connection and interface between the other two. Artistically, it asserts that the historic divisions of currently existing modalities of expression are obsolete and that contemporary expression encompasses sounds, images, form, space, literature, theater, dance, and more.  The conventional modalities of expression have been superseded by a transmodal continuum that now ranges from computation to fabrication, from art to science, from deterministic technology to chance emergence, from music to sculpture, and so on, melding them all into a single, continuous, expressive medium. This new continuum is the challenge contemporary architecture must confront and master.


The Seoul exhibition will certainly be different from the ones in Istanbul, Turkey, Venice, Italy, and Valencia, as well as the other upcoming ones, such as Sao Paulo, Brazil. There will be a consistent interplay between the city of Seoul and the location and specific geometry of the SPACE building. At the moment, it is impossible to say in detail how exactly it will be different – determining that is part of the creative process the piece explores. The most important purpose of my visit to Seoul is to experience the place and conceive ideas, and to begin building the sort of network the piece investigates. In essence, "Turbulent Topologies," exists on the basis of, multiplies, and evolves through the "turbulence" of linkages, associations, and encounters, as they aggregate in the act of living. Thus, everything predetermined is at once an opportunity and a hindrance, at once a path and an obstacle. At each moment, we build the world anew by negotiating this network, this spider’s web, that we are both constructing and contained by. So, to complete the piece, I must both be open to and gather the impressions – as definite data – that will inform and generate the work.


How did the concept of "liquid architectures" originate?


At its heart, and at a very abstract level, “liquid architectures” expresses the necessity and complementarity of agility and rigor. This needs some further explanation. During my undergraduate years, I studied architecture, but also art, music, computers, poetry, philosophy, history, mathematics, and physics. These were too many interests to pursue separately, but I resisted dividing or abandoning them and decided to declare instead that they were going to somehow constitute one field.


I started to learn computer programming in 1979. At the same time, I was also learning about electronic and computer music (and meeting people who composed music using computers) and about computer animation, and was I was deeply impressed by the purity and clarity of the both synthetic sound and of virtual space (as seen in early ray-tracing animations, for instance) and realized that such aesthetically distinct space and sound could not be ignored for long and would surely influence architecture one way or another.

Since, at that time, computers have not been used generatively in architecture, I decided to do this myself – to compose architecture by using computers. This was the first step toward “liquid architectures.”


I therefore began writing programs that composed architecture for this virtual space. Artistically and philosophically, I was interested in an objective understanding of what we mean by “beauty,” so I also included artificial intelligence, genetic algorithms, information theory, and other diverse kinds of knowledge I was discovering that I thought might help solve that problem. The programs worked well compositionally, but produced a very unusual result: parts of the buildings appeared to be floating in space! Since the programs were working correctly, any floating parts were not “incorrect.” Accepting this was the second critical step. Rather than ignoring the floating parts because they did no fit the normal definition of architecture, I decided that I needed to change that definition to encompass the phenomena of this new space. Without initially realizing that I was alone in doing this, I was creating the first architecture in the world specifically designed for virtual space.


The third step was to learn to focus on what was unique to this space and new to architecture. Certain implications of the move to computational generativity and virtuality quickly became evident. For instance: in this space, everything was variable; there was no gravity, and any physics included needed to be defined as much as the architecture was; even the viewer needed to be designed; and everything was held together by relations, which, though invisible, were rigorously and dynamically defined in code.


The idea of “liquid architectures” came from this process, but was not limited to it: In the end, “liquid architectures” is a description of the need for both rigor and agility in the generation of any complex, living system, actual or virtual, biological or technological. The best example of this, of course, is the living structure of DNA in combination with the mechanisms of evolution – a precise but dynamic architecture (both biomechanical and informational) enabled by and embedded in a constantly transforming matrix of unpredictable reality – the genetic algorithm as we find it in the world itself.


At that time, the architectural profession, and even the most advanced and avant-garde designers and architects, did not accept virtual or invisible space as part of architecture and only accepted visibly evident things. They also resisted strongly any proposal to use computers in a generative capacity. By contrast, I thought that technologically “transactivated” invisible space made possible a new architecture for our times, and that to investigate it, we needed to proceed algorithmically. For me, architecture was an issue of spacetime. It was clear to me that as our understanding and inhabitation of space changed, architecture had to change, Pursuing architecture seriously meant tracking the changes in space seriously, and not being afraid of the conclusions, however strange they might appear to be at first. As a result of such research, I unveiled the concept of "liquid architectures" in the mid-1980s.


Have you ever actually created invisible architectures? 

 “Turbulent Topologies” is the most complete version of “invisible architectures” so far. I designed more conventional buildings a few times, early on, but they were not driven by this concept, taking more general forms. The main connection to my present work was a deep concern for precise and intricate geometry. Even then, I was trying to realize a design aesthetic based on a concept of "immanence." This concept implies an order that permeates every aspect of a design. For instance, every cell in our body has our complete DNA blueprint, and thus all the parts of our body are generated, connected, and controlled by the same principles. Our bodies literally reject parts that do not belong to our individual principle. This principle of immanence is what makes each of us a complete organism and a unique person. As with biological things, such a principle can apply to our designs. Powerful artworks of all kinds share this;  beautiful designs are held together by formal principles that are present everywhere in the form, and that even extend beyond the physical and reach into the broader practical and cultural context things exist in. If some building is not extraordinary, it is due to a lack of such an immanent principle. This is the key element that makes the difference between a conceptually solid and beautiful result and unsophisticated and crude result. Indeed, this is the main difference between edifices that are simply buildings and edifices that can be called Architecture. The question is how to do this in a manner specific to the 21st century, and not to mimic the past. As a token of architectural discourse, “Turbulent Topologies” proposes invisible, transactivated space as a new architectural material, and brings the concept of immanence to the making of “invisible architectures.”

To get back to your question, I installed “Invisible architectures” when I participated in the Venice Biennale, representing Greece, in 2000. This actually began in 1999, at the Zeichenbau exhibition in Vienna, and then, in early 2000, just before the Biennale, at ArchiLab in France. However, I have never constructed it as a literal building. That has never interested me. In fact, although my architecture has been mostly understood in the context of theory and displayed in the context of art, I am interested in bigger ideas about architecture and the city. To carry these ideas out properly would require at least two buildings, at remote locations (perhaps in different cities entirely), each actual architecture surrounded by “invisible architectures” that serve as interfaces to their corresponding “liquid architectures” in virtual space and to each other. I would be happy to find an opportunity to carry this whole scheme out as I mean it, but for now, I am still building the parts.


I just mentioned the city. Among other things, “invisible architectures” is an urban idea, stemming from thinking about how to have a “festival of space” in a city, similar to the “Fête De La Musique” in France. (see:ête_de_la_Musique) An urban version of “Turbulent Topologies” came close to being built this year in Milano, Italy (2009 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of futurism in Milano). There were initial discussions for installing an urban, outdoor version of “Turbulent Topologies,” consisting of a scattering of interactive cubes (containing invisible sculptures, of course) placed throughout the streets and public spaces in Milano. Although it was not realized due to worsened economic conditions, if it had taken place, people would have encountered these seemingly empty cubes around the city, entered them, triggered the invisible architectures within them, and experienced a powerful interaction with a very new kind of space. At the same time, this would have reminded them of the Futurist concept of “intonarumori,” proposed by composer Luig Russolo in “The Art of Noise” in 1913. I suppose I have until 2013 to do this! ( Sooner or later, the ideas I have been outlining will find their way into the streets of our cities.


When we see your world of art and architecture, it gives us the impression that you accept and follow the imperfection of the world to a certain degree and internalize the lessons you learned in the process, rather than trying to analyze the existing phenomenal world and draw common principles. Interestingly enough, this aspect is similar to Oriental thought. Were you aware of this?   


Very good point! During my undergraduate years, I studied comparative religion and learned about various world views, including Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto, the African religions, shamanism, paganism, and so on. Although I was never a “believer” or “follower” of any of them, religions were interesting to me as cultural phenomena and philosophical worldviews. Practices that merely followed dogma and ritual and required blind faith or superstition, against reflection or evidence, in isolation from the world, as can be seen in the major Western religions, made me very uncomfortable, but I was pleased to discover that such aspects were largely absent in the religions of the Orient. In any case, Eastern views were more balanced, had a lighter and less moralizing touch, and showed a stronger connection to nature. I felt closer to them. I do not like generalized distinctions between the East and the West and do not wish to actively subscribe to any specific religion. However, from a conceptual perspective, I have a keen interest in Eastern religions, especially Seon Buddhism. In particular, Buddhism is an interesting religion, without any sense of denial and one I continue to learn a lot from. The idea of the “vision within a vision” (Muchū Setsumu) is very much a part of “Turbulent Topologies.”


Among Western religions, what interests me is the naturalistic polytheism of ancient Greece, which is in some sense similar to the animism of Shinto and the idea of “kami.” It is intriguing to me that in these views, many gods or spirits coexist, not a single anthropomorphized omnipotent god who governs everything under the sky. These many gods and spirits are not perfect, they make mistakes, have passions, and enjoy humor and wit – and this lightness balances their weight. In my view, they are imaginary beings, who, by being conceived as imperfect and flawed, transfer more responsibility onto people, rather than taking  -- or imposing -- responsibility themselves. They encourage people to pay attention to the qualities of the world, and on how to maintain a balance of forces, something our global culture needs to return to urgently.


In addition, concepts such as the Epicurean "ataraxia" (a term in Greek philosophy meaning an undisturbed and serene state, characterized by freedom from both overbearing fear and overarching hope), seem to have many things in common with Eastern ideas of meditation and tranquility. Since Epicurus (after Democritus and Leucippus) was one of the main founders of our present “atomistic” worldview (and, hence, of a scientific attentiveness to the world as it is), I see in both Eastern and Western serenity a reconciliation with nature that does not require a rejection of “what is” in the name of “what is to come,” but rather a calm acceptance and negotiation with reality as it is and as we live it, form it, and are formed by it.


This serenity at the center is literally present in “Turbulent Topologies.” If you find the center, the turbulence stops. If you persist there, the world changes.


You are described in various terms, such as an architect, artist, musician, theorist, or global nomad. If you were to introduce yourself, how would you describe yourself?


If I must use a label, I sometimes introduce myself as a transArchitect, but in most cases I prefer to simply introduce myself as “Marcos,” with no label at all, because, while such descriptions are pragmatically useful in a definite but limited way, they often hinder intellectual understanding. In other words, as far as I can tell, I am not defined by my role, or by any labels attached to me, I am defined by how clearly I witness the world and how effectively I live a creative life in it. Labels obscure my vision.  


"Global nomad" is not a term used to introduce myself, it is a perhaps interesting functional description of an aspect of what I do and how I live. As I frequently travel to many places, it is sometimes a useful way to introduce me, but that’s all. 


You were born in Venezuela, grew up in Greece, and attended college in the United States. Which place inspired you, as a global nomad, the most?


That is an intriguing question. I grew up in Greece, which therefore had a formative influence on me, in a complicated way. From Venezuela, my full name was Juan Marcos Christo Constantino Novak, which is not at all Greek. Throughout my childhood in Greece, I absorbed Greek culture, but also felt I was a foreigner there, which I think is the beginning of my feeling “global.” Later, after I left Greece, by studying ancient Greek philosophy, I felt closer to the ideas of the place. Now, when I go back, I am impressed by the extraordinary combination of place and mind on that landscape and seascape and skyscape.


Growing up, I was aware of the growing radius of my explorations, determined first by how far I could walk, then how far I could go on my bicycle, my motorcycle, eventually cars, trains, airplanes, books, thought, and the Internet. The radius grew and grew, starting from my childhood neighborhood, Athens itself, other towns, cities, countries, and continents, until I finally became this global nomad. More than any single place, I have been influenced by this idea of an ever-expanding radius of explorations, initially physical, eventually intellectual. 


One of the facts little known to most people is that my grandfather, Mavrikios Novak, and father, Jason Novak, were pioneers of Greek cinema. From my very early years, I was exposed to the apparatus of film-making, such as cameras, settings, actors, and stages. I realized early on that apparent “reality” of cinema was something constructed by the methodical attention to both scope and detail, and that an invisible armature held the visible aspect of a film together. The world is no different; as Shakespeare wrote, “all the world’s a stage.” The combination of the idea of an ever expanding radius of one’s own world with the idea that worlds can be constructed led to my notion of “worldmaking,” and the idea of an invisible armature holding the visible world together led to “invisible architectures.” All of these elements, and more, are fused into “Turbulent Topologies.”



Marcos Novak is an artist, theorist, and global nomad. He recognizes virtual space as a concept of architectural and urban place and is a global authority as a pioneer in virtual space architecture where, based on computer environments, organic combination of architecture and design exists. His projects, academic papers, and interviews have been translated in more than 20 languages and published in more than 70 countries. He travels around the world to deliver lectures and hold exhibitions. Marcos Novak’s work is characterized by a fusion of architecture, music, and structure on computer manipulation, as well as of numerous inspirations from art, science, and technology, which transcend generally accepted areas of classifications.    


Monthly SPACE Sep. 2009

Koh Won-Seok(Curator, Gallery SPACE)


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